FE colleges ‘may lose students to Moocs’

Will Yale’s lure empty out the sixth forms?

May 9, 2013

With A-level-aged students “perfectly capable” of following free online university courses, sixth forms and further education colleges should expect greater competition, the deputy of a private school has warned.

Chris Roseblade, deputy head (communications) at Merchant Taylors’ School in Middlesex, said that “exam factory schools” - which simply teach the skills needed to get a decent grade at GCSE or A level - “cannot compete with the likes of Yale and Harvard”, both of which offer massive open online courses in a range of subjects free of charge.

He envisaged UK further education colleges using Moocs to offer access to courses taught by leading academics, as is already done at some US community colleges.

“In certain areas where boys and girls might previously have said ‘I won’t leave school at 16 to go to the local tech, because I don’t think the local tech is that good’…they might decide to go and ‘have the course taught by that bloke at Harvard who’s supposed to be pretty good’.”

This, Mr Roseblade told the Making Sense of Mooc “strategic workshop” hosted by his school on 24 April, could lead to “shrinkages of sixth forms and mass defections into further education” settings.

The only place students could then attend a big thriving sixth form would be at the local independent school, he said.

“That causes a big problem, because [independent schools] sell themselves on the basis of individual care and you’ve suddenly got much larger numbers to deal with.”

Also speaking at the event was Peter Kilcoyne, information and learning technology director at Worcester College of Technology. He was less optimistic about further education students successfully using Moocs in their studies.

“The classic Mooc model, if we can talk about such a thing when it has only been around a few years, I don’t think has any real place in FE,” he said. “The big challenge for FE learners is that they aren’t very independent learners. They need a lot of support and chivvying along. If they are left on a computer with no one chivvying them along, they’ll be on to Facebook in a few minutes and you’ve lost them.”


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